The U.S. was near full employment in January 2020¹, but it only took two months for the economy to take the biggest dip it has seen since The Great Depression.² The COVID-19 pandemic accentuated health disparities among minority communities and how structural life contributes to overall health. Now, with the flu season soon approaching and economic recovery in the works, minorities may continue to be impacted by coronavirus’ double-edged sword. 

Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said that it’s very likely the country will see two epidemics co-exist this fall and winter. However, he also stated that doesn’t mean the current COVID-19 epidemic will worsen, only that the situation will become more complicated.³

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Regardless of how the two viruses interact this fall and winter, safety measures, such as mask mandates, social distancing guidelines and reduced hours, will likely continue in some form until a vaccine is found. These safety measures are equipped to combat the flu as well, but as the COVID-19 pandemic showed, minorities do not always have the privilege to partake in them. 

 

Employment Woes

While health experts and leaders look to increase caution going into flu season, the economy is not likely to bounce back so rapidly. However, it is likely that minorities in the U.S. will continue to feel the disproportionate effects. Minorities are more likely than their white counterparts to work in jobs that increase exposure, or cannot be performed from home. This means a large percent are employed in the service sector or in production, transportation, and material moving where social isolation cannot be performed.²

Even if those jobs are able to be performed, many are still affected by pay cuts and job losses. More than 30 million jobs lost were “production and non supervisory jobs.” The U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index reported that 93.4 percent of jobs lost in March of this year were low-quality jobs, which are unlikely to offer paid sick leave and health insurance. A large portion of these jobs are held by people of color. For example, 30 percent of construction workers are Hispanic and 24 percent of blacks and Hispanics work in the service industry. 

 

Tackling the Uninsured

Because of the current job outlook, many patients in a minority population are also more likely to be uninsured. The breakdown of nonelderly uninsured patients is as followed: 

  • 22% of American Indian and Alaska Natives 
  • 19% of Hispanics
  • 11% of Blacks
  • 9% of Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders
  • 8% of Whites

These uninsured patients are less likely to seek care for early onset of symptoms, regardless of the disease in question, which can lead to worsened outcomes in the long-term. 

 

Communal Living 

Housing insecurity has risen since the beginning of the pandemic. This forces those potentially facing job loss into a precarious balance, and also renders them unable to change their living situation. Many minorities live in multigenerational houses, with the youngest serving as caretakers for the older generations. This, coupled with increased exposure resulting from job type, makes it difficult to isolate older members of the family to decrease their risk. The breakdown of minorities who live in multigenerational households is as follows: 

  • 29% Asians (including pacific islanders)
  • 27% of Hispanics
  • 26% of Blacks
  • 16% of Whites²

 

Potential Relief: HEROES Act

On Sept. 28, high level democrats proposed an updated version of the HEROES Act that would give some reprieve to disadvantaged communities. Major highlights include⁴: 

  • Another $1,200 stimulus check, based on 2018-2019 tax file 
    • Anyone with a tax identification number eligible for this check, including undocumented workers
    • Exempt from deductions from bankruptcy, child support or garnishment
  • $500 stimulus check for all dependents, including those of college age
  • $600/week in unemployment, up from the current $300
    • Includes relief for self-employed and gig workers (e.g. Lyft drivers)
    • Would start retroactively from Sept. 6
  • Social programs obtain more funding
    • $10 billion allocated to SNAP
      • Beneficiaries now able to purchase hot foods
    • $400 million allocated to WIC
  • Housing security
    • $21 billion for homeowners struggling with mortgage payments or other housing related issues
    • $5 billion in grants for families at risk of homelessness or already homeless
    • $50 billion in emergency rental assistance to help low-income renters avoid eviction
    • $750 million in rental assistance for those living in project-based housing. 
  • $9.2 billion allocated to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) 
    • 7.6 billion would be allocated toward Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to: 
      • Expand health center capacity 
      • Purchase equipment, supplies and vehicles and hire staff to conduct mobile COVID-19 testing

 

Looking Ahead

For now, the state of minority health during this flu and COVID-19 season will remain at stake. As of writing this blog, the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act on a 214 to 207 vote.⁵ However, President Trump has blocked all negotiations on the bill until after the election. If the bill does make it to the Senate floor and they approve the bill, President Trump still has the power to veto the bill, which would then return it back to the House and Senate where it would need a ⅔ majority vote to pass. For now, health centers are encouraged to seek funding from innovative outlets and keep lobbying to their members of Congress. 

 

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SOURCES: 

¹ Picchi, Aimee. “The U.S. Is near Full Employment. Get Ready for a Bad Flu Season.” CBS News, 15 Jan. 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/2020-flu-season-the-u-s-is-near-full-employment-get-ready-for-a-bad-flu-season.

² Holtz-Eakin, Douglas. “The Disproportionate Impact of Covid-19 on Communities of Color.” AAF, 27 May 2020, www.americanactionforum.org/testimony/the-disproportionate-impact-of-covid-19-on-communities-of-color.

³ Broadfoot, Marla. “Coronavirus and the Flu: A Looming Double Threat.” Scientific American, 6 Sept. 2020, www.scientificamerican.com/article/coronavirus-and-the-flu-a-looming-double-threat.

⁴ House of Representatives. “Making Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2021, and for Other Purposes.” Appropriations.House.Gov, 28 Sept. 2020, appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/SUPP_SEP_01_ALL_xml.2020.9.28.1753.pdf.

⁵ “House Passes Updated Heroes Act.” House Committee on Appropriations, 2 Oct. 2020, appropriations.house.gov/news/press-releases/house-passes-updated-heroes-act.

 

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